“Ian Fleming & Georges Simenon. The World of Bond and Maigret” (published by ERIS gems)

Two best sellers chat and swap secrets

Writers Ian Fleming, an Englishman, 1908-1964, and Georges Simenon, a Belgian, 1903-1989, created two of the greatest characters in 20th-century fiction – licensed-to-kill Secret Service agent James Bond 007 and Parisian detective Chief Superintendent Jules Maigret. The two authors met for a conflab in 1964, and the result was first published in Harper’s Bazaar magazine in November that year. The ensuing dialogue appears again in this nice little addition to the collections of their works on our bookshelves.
7. January 2023 18:17

It was their only meeting, and fans of the two will be fascinated as the discussion ranged freely over dust jackets, revision (or not) of proofs, the use of personal experiences in plots, sources for names of characters, thoughts on women and reviewers, plus a bit more. This is, though, a very short booklet and can be consumed inside half an hour. A brief introduction says that the meeting was arranged and recorded by one Gordon Young, who we guess must be from Harper’s Bazaar or perhaps from either Fleming’s or Simenon’s publisher.

The lead-in to the meeting in Switzerland tells us that “Fleming’s low-slung black Avanti [a very flashy American sports car] – black leather upholstery, crimson-lettered dials on its dashboard, a top speed of 220 m.p.h. – had just driven up to the ancient Château d’Echandens outside Lausanne [Simenon moved there in July 1957and remained for six years].

“The talk takes place in Simenon’s study. High-vaulted castle windows look out on a quiet park; white walls are sparsely decorated with a few family photographs and a painting by Fernand Léger. Simenon, young at sixty, sits back at his desk in a white open-necked silk shirt and flannel trousers. The fifty-five-year-old Fleming, ostentatiously casual, in a crumpled gray sports shirt and black woolen cardigan, looks like Bond on a holiday. Perched on a stool is Denise, Simenon’s French-Canadian wife.”

The introduction notes that the dialogue had just gone to press when the sad news came of Fleming’s death. The author, who had been born in London on May 28, 1908, suffered an untimely demise from heart disease at the age of 56 in Canterbury, Kent, United Kingdom, on August 12, 1964. Bond was just about to burst on the world with the third film, “Goldfinger”.

And so the wordsmiths shoot the breeze a bit. Fleming first read Simenon on his way to Moscow in 1939 when he was attracted by their very good graphic jackets in either Amsterdam or The Hague, and bought three or four. Simenon says his publisher gives him a chance to comment on his jackets but he never bothers because he has nil interest in his books after they are finished.

Fleming is the opposite, while Simenon says he also doesn’t care about correcting his proofs. “It seems to me so disgusting when I read my book over again.” To which Madame Simenon adds that “I weed them out a bit”. Both men agree that they try not to be too literary. They discuss their bad habits, such as overusing certain words. They don’t make use of their surroundings when writing, preferring to rely on imagination. But everything that happens in life is experience to an author, they agree, and powers of observation count.

Fleming reads Simenon in French when he can: “Well, you write the most wonderful French… You have one of the most beautiful styles I know.” But in perhaps the most startling revelation in the conversation, Simenon reveals: “I know what you write, but to tell you the truth I have never read it – for one reason: at the age of twenty-five I decided never to read any novels again. And I haven’t – not a single one. I know your books from the critics, and that’s why I know you very well.”

The Belgian says he had 180 or 200 world phone books and he used these to pick names but he “had some trouble with that” (a complaint), and now he uses a French dictionary. Fleming gets an awful lot of his names from motoring. He might pass through a village street abroad and see a good name outside a shop (what, Pussy Galore?author)

Fleming collects rare editions, a bibliophile, and when he asks Simenon which is his rarest book, the answer is “Le Pont des arches”, his first, that he wrote at 16 and which has completely disappeared, though he has one copy. Actually, says Mme. Simenon, it has been republished, to which Fleming points out that this doesn’t count from a bibliophile’s point of view.

Ian Lancaster Fleming was brought up in wealthy Mayfair in London. His father, Valentine, was the Member of Parliament for Henley. After attending Eton College, Ian went on to a small private school, Tennerhof, in Kitzbühel, Austria, run by former British spy Ernan Forbes Dennis. Fleming was a journalist for Reuters News Agency and spent time in Moscow covering news stories in the early 1930s. In May 1939 he became personal assistant to Rear Admiral John Godfrey, the Royal Navy’s director of Naval Intelligence.

In 1942 Fleming formed the No 30 Commando unit (also known as the 30 Assault Unit), composed of specialist intelligence troops. Their task was to seize documents from enemy headquarters near the frontline of an advance. In December 1944 he was posted on an intelligence trip to the Far East, before being demobilised in May 1945.

The idea of writing a spy novel had begun to form during the war. Inspired by his experiences in Naval Intelligence and his passion for travelling the world, Fleming sat down at his typewriter in Goldeneye, his home in Jamaica, to write “the spy story to end all spy stories”.

He began writing “Casino Royale” in 1952, based on his own adventures, coupled with his imagination. It detailed the exploits of James Bond, an officer in MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, and it was published by Jonathan Cape in the UK in 1953.

Fleming wrote 12 James Bond novels and nine short stories about the man who became the most famous fictional spy, in both literature and cinema. He penned two non-fictions, “Thrilling Cities” and “The Diamond Smugglers”, and a children’s book, “Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang”.

Georges Joseph Christian Simenon was born in Liège, Belgium, and began working on a local newspaper at age 16. At 19 he went to Paris determined to be a successful writer. Typing some 80 pages each day, he wrote, between 1923 and 1933, more than 200 books of pulp fiction under 16 different pseudonyms.

“Pietr-le-Letton “, the first of 75 novels with the imperturbable, pipe-smoking Parisian police inspector Jules Maigret, appeared in 1931 and he wrote some 120 psychological novels. They were translated into around 50 languages and sold an estimated 600 million-plus copies worldwide. Many of his works were the basis of feature films.

ERIS gems, the publisher of “Ian Fleming & Georges Simenon. The World of Bond and Maigret”, offers “beautifully produced saddle-stitched booklets” containing “a series of outstanding short works of fiction and non-fiction. Some neglected and some notorious, they are all brilliant and indispensable”. Among the inaugural titles are “H.G. Wells’s disconcerting tale ‘The Country of the Blind’, Edith Wharton’s lacerating essay on ‘The Vice of Reading’, and Tony Judt’s ‘The Glory of the Rails’ – a moving hymn to public transportation and technological modernity”.

Also published are “Humour as I See It” by Stephen Leacock, “Story of My Death” by Lauro De Bosis, “Essay on the Art of Crawling” by Baron d’Holbach, “Unpacking My Library” by Walter Benjamin, “Dracula’s Guest” by Bram Stoker and “The Invisible Collection” by Stefan Zweig.

Each title can be purchased separately but the whole series is also available by subscription.


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